RICHMOND — This World Environment Day, the Virginia Department of Corrections joins those taking stock of their environmental impact. The Department of Corrections began composting in 2001, and today boasts two sites capable of handling more than 12,000 pounds of food waste per day.
Composting saves money by reducing trash-hauling fees and reducing or eliminating the use of fertilizer. “This tremendously reduces the agency’s carbon footprint,” said Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) Recycling and Sustainability Coordinator Courtney Cotton.
What was once food scraps, wood chips, leaves and even cow manure transforms into what some call “black gold” because it enriches existing soil with essential nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, sulfur and micronutrients.
Several offenders are specially trained to work at the compost sites, skills that could lead to employment when the offenders are released.
VADOC has a community partner in the University of Richmond (UR). In 2013, VADOC composted 40,964 pounds of food waste food from the university. "The University of Richmond is committed to sustainability in a variety of ways,” said UR Sustainability Manager Megan Zanella-Litke. “We value our relationships with local partners and working with VADOC provides a unique and important opportunity for us to reduce the amount of waste we send to the landfill each year."
The composting process takes place inside one of four composting vessels, two of which are the size of a tractor trailer bed and the other two the size (and look) of a small green house. VADOC is using the compost to fertilize its fields, orchards, flower beds and trees. Composting can improve depleted or disturbed soil structure by increasing its permeability and porosity. Composting differs from natural decomposition in that it is a product of controlled conditions.
The agency has two separate collection sites: the State Farm complex in Powhatan, which came online in 2001, and White Post Men’s Diversion Center, which began operation in the fall of 2013. State Farm handles as much as 12,000 pounds per day. White Post can handle about 100 pounds per day.
“We strive to be self-sustaining and efficient in our operations. We work to reduce our environmental impact and keep our costs low. We work collaboratively with other entities to promote better outcomes, and we want to help offenders prepare for their return to society,” said VADOC Director of Environmental Services Tim Newton. “Our composting effort contributes to all these goals.”
In recent years, the VADOC has received awards for its composting efforts. In 2010, the State Farm program received a bronze Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award. And in 2013, the State Farm program was named the Virginia Recycling Association’s Outstanding Organics Program of the Year.
More information on the VADOC can be found at www.vadoc.virginia.gov.